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Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Excerpt from Murder Under the Tree: Kay Driscoll has Phil's relatives over for Christmas dinner. (After reading this, it may surprise you that Margo was not the murder victim.)

Around noon, the door bell rang. "They're already here?" I said in disbelief under my breath. I took off my apron and went to answer the door just as Phil came down the steps, all showered and looking handsome in a suit.

"Surprise! Merry Christmas! We're early," Phil's brother Tommy said, standing on the porch.

I smiled at Phil. "Yes, you are." Great surprise. Phil's brother Tom and my obsessive sister-in-law Margo. Their arms were loaded full of plastic Tupperware containers, plus a fruit cake. "Merry Christmas!" Phil and I said.

"Kay, Margo's looking forward to helping you out with Christmas dinner." Phil looked over at me raising his eyebrows. Andrew and Will, who were now at the front door, stood grinning.

I clenched my jaw. More like take over Christmas dinner. "How thoughtful, Margo, it's so sweet of you to want to help. But, I'd appreciate if you'd just enjoy your Christmas. Guests should be guests. Please, just enjoy yourself." I forced a smile. Would she buy it? My sister-in-law thought she was queen-of-every-kitchen. Everything had to be done her way. It wouldn't be so terrible, if she knew how to cook. Kay, remember it's Christmas.

Tommy looked towards Margo and she at him. "Something smells good in here," he said as handed me the fruit cake and walked into the house. "Nonsense. Margo wants to help you."

"I insist!" Margo said without a smile.

"Let me help you with all of those containers. You shouldn't have brought all of this food. We have plenty." An extra hour with Margo. My menu, ruined. Of that, I was sure.

Margo went straight into the kitchen. I followed with the containers and the fruitcake and put them on the counter. She took off her coat, handed it to me, and took a Christmas apron out of her large purse. I wondered if she had a chef's hat in there as well. She put on her apron and proceeded to lift up each lid of the pots on the stove, systemically tasting everything. "Well, we can rescue that," I heard her say under her breath as I left to hang up her coat.

Going into the living room, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door to find Deirdre and Mike, Elizabeth and John standing on the doorstep, with packages in their arms, singing.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wand'ring

So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you....

Everyone came to the door to listen, other than Margo. "Lovely voices!" I said and clapped when they finished. "Come in. I am so glad you are here." I had never been so glad to see anyone.

"Kay, what's wrong?" Deirdre asked in a low voice. I must have looked desperate.

Deirdre could always sense when something was wrong. "Margo's in the kitchen."

"Oh," Deirdre said. Her eyebrows drew together.

"You poor thing," Elizabeth added. She handed me another fruitcake.

I was about to close the door when I spotted Phil's aunt and uncle coming out of the car at the end of the driveway. I waved and waited for them outside on the porch, Elizabeth's fruitcake in hand, as they walked up to the house. I looked over at Ted's house. I saw the curtain in the living room twitch. Hmm...Did we have a new neighbor? "Merry Christmas, Kay!" We hugged.

"So happy you could make it," I said.

"Lovely home," Uncle Ben said. "Sudbury Falls looks like a nice little town."

They handed me a wrapped round package. "Better put this in the refrigerator. It's Uncle Ben's favorite," Aunt Mary said. She looked down at Elizabeth's fruitcake. "Looks like you'll have plenty."

Everyone sat in the living room visiting, other than Chef Margo. Phil took drink orders. I had plates of appetizers on various tables and passed those around. Aunt Mary commented on our beautiful Christmas tree and the other decorations. Elizabeth stood up and walked over to get another nibble. She wore a short, low-cut, forest green dress that looked like it was spray painted on, except that it got even lower when she bent over the tray of appetizers.

Across the room I saw Uncle Ben look over at Aunt Mary and wink at her. How sweet, I thought. They've been married for what, almost sixty years? Then as Elizabeth passed him, I saw Ben wink at her as well, after he gave her the once-over, three times, and ran his hand over his thinning hair.

I went back in the kitchen and watched Margo work like a whirling dervish, adding salt and other spices, ruining my meal.

I took the salt shaker out of Margo's hands and put it down on the counter. "Margo, I think that is enough salt. Phil is trying to watch his salt intake. Why don't you go into the living room and sit down and visit with Aunt Mary and Uncle Ben for a while?"

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Elizabeth came into the kitchen. Her face flushed. Her eyes wide and glowing. "Kay, I think John is going to ask me to marry him!"

"Really? Great!" I gave her a hug. "But you haven't been seeing each other that long." I thought back to when just a couple of months ago, Elizabeth was dating three other men, all at the same time.

She gave me her pained stare. Then said, "What should I say, Kay?" She grabbed my arm. "What...should I do?"

Just then Andy came into the kitchen. He looked between Elizabeth and myself. Elizabeth took her hand off my arm. "Dad sent me in. We need more appetizers."

I took out the spinach-artichoke dip I was keeping warm in the oven, spooned it into a small bread bowl, and handed it to Andy. "Thanks, Andy." I smiled.

"What makes you think he's going to?"

After Andy left the room, Elizabeth looked over at Margo. Margo was adding more cream to the chestnut soup. Much more. Probably thinking Margo was too far gone into re-seasoning, she continued. "I was getting dressed in his bedroom. I saw a receipt from a jewelers... for a diamond ring. A big diamond ring."

Deirdre walked into the kitchen. "Kay, what can I do to help?"

"You want to help?" I whispered to Deirdre, looking at the salt shaker back in Margo's hands. The situation with Margo was beyond any damage control. "Make me a drink!"

Soon we all sat down to Christmas dinner. I said grace. Phil made a toast, reprising last night's "God bless us, everyone." We started with the chestnut cream soup. Margo had allowed the soup to boil, resulting in it curdling. For the main course, rosemary-garlic roast beef and potatoes with horseradish sauce, an abundance of salt overpowered all of the other ingredients. Luckily, I had prepared the asparagus with romano cheese at the last minute and without attracting Margo's notice. The table was also ladened with the other foods Margo had brought.

"Everything's delicious," Tommy said.

Deirdre smiled at me. I watched Phil gulping down water. But as the food was eaten, and the conversations made lively, I smiled and thought, success, even with a whirling dervish in the kitchen.

Happy Christmas! God bless us, everyone!




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